Speed, agility and brilliant low tackling… that’s the secret of Japan’s success at the Rugby World Cup
- The rugby world must look at how Japan are taking their game to new heights
- They are a very small side yet they are punching massively above their weight
- Japan counter that lack of bulk with fitness levels that are right off the scale
One miracle World Cup win could possibly be viewed as a glorious, courageous, once-in-a-lifetime triumph.
But after Japan’s incredible victory over Ireland on Saturday the entire rugby world must take a serious look at how the Cherry Blossoms are taking their game to new heights. We can all learn from them.
By modern standards they are a very small side yet they punch massively above their weight. They counter that lack of bulk with fitness levels that are right off the scale, worthy of Olympic athletes, and this enables them to play at an extraordinary tempo for the full 80 minutes.
Japan’s players celebrate on the pitch after their shock victory over Ireland on Saturday
Japan pulled off a second huge upset at successive Rugby World Cup finals this weekend
This is still fairly unchartered territory for rugby. England achieved great things in 2003 because we were fitter than other sides, it gave us an edge, but I don’t believe rugby generally has kicked on in this respect.
The demands of long domestic seasons played in variable weathers and then perhaps too much international rugby has seen many sides and players opt for durability and reliability so much so that it really is quite an eye opener when a team like Japan — and New Zealand — seem to play with the fast forward button on.
And its not just the physical speed, it’s being able to think at that speed and to execute basic skill at that tempo.
I remember visiting Eddie Jones down in Gloucester four years ago just a couple of days after he had masterminded Japan’s famous win over South Africa and was fascinated when he explained some of their training drills.
Every drill was done much quicker and for longer than would be demanded in real match situations, players practiced passing at a bewildering speed which almost defied the eye.
By modern standards they are a very small side yet they punch massively above their weight
Train hard play easy. Japan’s way forward was to take full advantage of their natural speed of foot and dexterity, make a virtue of their lack of size.
Japan play rugby on their terms and that really challenges the opposition who must have the ability to either match that tempo or the confidence to impose their preferred game plan.
But Japan are bringing other strengths to their core game. Strong scrum, steady lineout and above all else textbook low tackling that mocks those who claim you can’t tackle legally now in the age of blockbusting 19 stone runners who you are often forced to confront head on.
Japan use their speed, fitness and agility to manoeuvre themselves into the correct position to hit low and from the side or, if they must make a front on tackle, to get into a low powerful position to execute their hits legally.
And having made their hit they are very disciplined at the breakdown that follows. They understand and play to the laws
They counter that lack of bulk with fitness levels that are worthy of Olympic athletes
There was one moment on Saturday when one of the Japanese players lifts the leg of an Irish ball carrier and shapes as if to drive him towards the ground and you think this might not end well.
But what happens next is that the nearest Japan player immediately steps in and together they both safely return the Irishman to ground as the laws demand.
Very smart thinking in a huge match, a decision on the hoof that prevented a penalty and probably a card. As a coach you just love it when your players are that tuned in to what is needed.
The unspectacular and clever stuff is also helping to make this Japan side so effective and good to watch. They have ignited the World Cup and a nation and along with all of you I can’t wait to watch them play again.
The rugby world must look at how the Cherry Blossoms are taking their game to new heights
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